State Officials Announce New Clinical Protocols for COVID-19 Testing

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  •  Updated protocols will expedite testing for patients with a range of symptoms and conditions as well as health care workers and emergency responders
  • MassHealth issues guidance to providers to ensure access to treatment including telehealth

The Baker-Polito Administration continues to take action to expedite COVID-19 testing and ensure access to treatment. The Department of Public Health (DPH) and MassHealth released guidance related to access to clinical testing and care, respectively, in response to COVID-19. This announcement was made this morning at a press conference where Governor Baker announced the creation of a new COVID-19 Response Command Center.

Under DPH’s new clinical guidance, clinicians no longer need to receive testing approval from the State Lab prior to submitting specimens for patients that meet the following specific criteria:

·         Symptomatic health care workers and emergency medical services personnel who have worked while sick.

·         Hospitalized individuals suspected of having COVID-19 infection.

·         Individuals who have had close contact with a someone with confirmed COVID-19 while symptomatic in congregate settings and clusters of acute respiratory illness in congregate settings.

·         Those with symptoms linked to recent travel to high-risk countries.

For patients who do not meet these criteria, clinicians will continue to follow the existing protocols – call the EPI line to gain testing approval and then submit specimens to the State Lab.

Additional changes to procedures include that clinicians only need to collect one specimen type for testing at both the State Lab and commercial labs. This change was based on new CDC guidance that now requires one nasal swab instead of two. As clinicians change their practice and follow the new guidance, this change will allow more individuals to be tested.

Clinicians can also send specimens from suspected COVID-19 patients without approval from DPH to commercial labs that received federal approval to conduct COVID-19 testing.

The Department of Public Health will be releasing the number of people tested for COVID-19 in Massachusetts Beginning on Wednesday, March 18. Updated numbers will be provided weekly by 12 p.m. on mass.gov/COVID19. This is in addition to daily case updates posted online at 4 p.m.

MassHealth – Massachusetts’ Medicaid program – released new policies to provide guidance and clarification for MassHealth plans to ensure access to care in response to COVID-19. These policies expand telehealth coverage, allow 90-day refills of prescriptions and early refills, make billing for COVID-19 tests easier for providers, and remind providers that there are no copays for lab tests and pharmacies that they cannot deny medications if a member cannot pay.  This announcement follows other focused efforts by Massachusetts to ensure that residents can access coverage for testing and treatment for COVID-19, including the Massachusetts Health Connector announced a special enrollment period to ensure everyone who wants access to covered coronavirus services has it, and the Division of Insurance announced that Massachusetts health insurers are now required to cover the cost of testing and treatment for members who may be affected by the  COVID-19.

The public is reminded that real-time COVID-19 information, resources, and referrals in multiple languages can be found by calling Massachusetts 2-1-1. Callers dialing 2-1-1 will hear an automated menu of options. Callers press 2-6 for coronavirus. Residents can also reach 2-1-1 through a live chat option on the Massachusetts 2-1-1 website. Through this partnership with Massachusetts 2-1-1 announced yesterday, DPH subject matter experts are expanding access to information 24/7, and empowering call operators to provide the latest information about prevention, symptoms, and treatment, information about testing, and guidance for travel.  This new service is in addition to a dedicated site mass.gov/COVID19, which is updated daily with information and resources.

Governor Charlie Baker declared a State of Emergency to support the Commonwealth’s response to coronavirus. The Administration has updated guidance to the general public, specifically urging older adults and those with health issues to avoid large crowds and events. The Administration also released new policies to protect individuals in long-term care facilities, and those served in community-based and congregate care settings from respiratory illnesses.

Individuals who live in households with vulnerable people, like elderly parents, should also consider avoiding crowds to mitigate risk. This guidance is posted on the Department of Public Health’s website, mass.gov/COVID19.

The public is reminded of steps to take to limit the spread of COVID-19:

  • Cover your mouth – when you cough or sneeze use a tissue or your inner elbow, not your hands
  • Wash your hands – with soap and warm water or use an alcohol-based sanitizing gel
  • Stay home if you are sick – and avoid close contact with others

The Administration will continue to update the public on further developments and individuals are encouraged to consult both the Department of Public Health and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention websites for the most up to date information.

The latest information and guidance regarding COVID-19 is always available at mass.gov/COVID19.

 

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